Declare God's Glory
Dr. Frank Fortunato has been a dear friend of ours for many years. His extensive experience as a worship missionary around the globe with Operation Mobilization along with his nuanced and well-developed theology of worship is a guiding light in our work as global worship leaders. Here is a reposted article on the subject of diversity in worship. ~ Peter Shu, Founder, Global Worship Movement.
DECLARE GOD’S GLORY
A modest discussion about Global Worship
By Frank Fortunato
Reposted from article for Worship Leader Magazine
It’s Christmas season at a large Southern California church. Someone announces that the next song will be a Nigerian Christmas carol sung and performed on twelve djembe drums. An African cry of excitement pierces the air in the filled-to-capacity 5,000-seat auditorium. Fuller Professor Roberta King described the moment as one of ecstatic joy for those Nigerian Californians who had the opportunity to experience Christmas for those few moments in their own musical language.
While ethnic melodies enrich the worship across the nation, many churches are still rather clueless about incorporating an African song with djembe drum into a Christmas celebration. So Roberta has been at the forefront exhorting churches to catch on and catch up. She describes the peril North American churches face when not adequately ministering to the wide range of worship needs in the ever-changing cultural make-up of our congregations, calling it a 21st century version of cultural imperialism. With prophetic precision she shares how the use of culturally distinctive worship practices different from our own broadens and enriches our understandings of the breadth of God on a global scale.i
However, engaging in multi-cultural worship in our churches is not for the fainthearted pastor or worship leader. Roberta adds that it will require hard work, learning to understand other people’s cultural rites, songs, and prayers and how to adapt them into multicultural worship. John Witvliet, head of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship sizes up the daunting attempt: “The topic of Christian worship worldwide…is endlessly interesting, profoundly instructive, and unmanageably large. The scope is nothing less than the worship practices of the world’s two billion Christians—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal—in 200+ countries and hundreds of cultural and ethnic groups, each of whom have unique patterns of dress, speech, aesthetic sensibilities, interpersonal communication habits…” ii What follows is a very modest attempt to offer some brushstrokes on the huge global worship canvas. A good place to begin is Ps 96:3, “declare His glory among the nations.”
1 Declare Glory
Glory. What an awe-filled word; the sum total of all His perfections and attributes. Some describe glory as God’s brilliance and presence radiating through the universe. In sublime language Barth spoke of glory as “a great outpouring of overflowing light begun in the Trinity extended into all creation, in which we are invited to participate through worship.” iii We humans could never comprehend such dazzling glory emanating endlessly from the very throne room of God. In His kindness, God “earthed” and grounded his glory for us: “The Word became flesh and blood…We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son.” (John 1:14. Message). In an astonishing biblical passage God invites us to participate in His glory. Paul describes a “face-changing” transforming activity: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). iv
Witvliet offers a slightly modified metaphor. Rather than a mirror reflecting glory back to us, he suggests peering through to God’s glory. He shares: “Think of worship as a window. In Psalm 63 we ‘behold God’s power and glory…(We see) ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ (2 Cor. 4:6)… He goes on: “The temptation we face as worship leaders is that we will spend so much energy dressing this window, repairing this window, or cleaning this window that we have no time to look through it…pondering the sheer beauty and glory of God.” v
2. Declare glory through multicultural worship
Whom we behold and ponder inwardly we declare outwardly. Notre Dame professor Mark Knoll imagined what it would look like to sound out Psalm 150 multi-culturally. With imagination and musical flare he paraphrased: "Praise him with syncopation and on the beat. Praise him with 5-tones (the Thai xylophone), 12-tones (most Western music), 24-tones (Arab music), and all scales in between. Praise him a cappella, with orchestra, and with drum set. Praise him with works of supernal intelligence and greatest simplification. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Together." vi
Urban churches are experimenting and catching on using the differing ethnic sounds. More research will be needed, but groups like the Mosaix Global Network have begun to track what works and does not work bringing multi-racial and multi-cultural worship to North American churches. Many non-American churches are much further along. Kensington Temple in Central London gathers worshipers from more than 90 nations to their services, and uses the rich tapestry of ethnic instruments and sounds in their worship.
No single style of music can accomplish racial or ethnic diversity in congregations, although many North American urban churches discover that rock, gospel or salsa are good starting points. This will challenge those with narrow tastes. For instance, entering authentically into a song from another continent might mean leaving behind the harmony and repetitive rhythm with which you are familiar in favor of unison singing with the accompaniment of a complex polyrhythm. Most of the time, short, call and response global songs are good starting points. Performing rhythms using hand percussion instruments from a region can create the energy and excitement of a global song. Many learn to use songs with short refrains. A soloist familiar with the language can sing the longer passages and have the congregation sing shorter repetitive passages of the refrain.
Many newer denominational hymnals now include global songs with both the original language and decent English translations. Several Christian world music publications are now available providing a smorgasbord of ethnic worship. Some recent publications now include performance suggestions and provide CD or MP3 authentic accompaniments. A plethora of You Tube examples from every continent provides an inexpensive way to get educated with the global sounds of worship. The International Council of Ethnodoxologists has begun a series of seminars on moving a church into multicultural worship. vii
3. Declare glory as doxological evangelism
Edmund Clowney thundered out to the 17,000 delegates at the Urbana 1976 missions convention: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to announce our international anthem. Declare his glory among the nations, his wonders among all the peoples" (Ps: 96:3). Maybe you came to God singing, ‘Just As I Am,’ but you are sent to the nations singing, ‘How Great Thou Art!’…We are called to doxological evangelism…When the people of God sing his praises, then the nations listen… “ viii Clowney soldered worship and mission together and started to redefine evangelism itself as an act of worship—a declaring of glory. When someone says: “Let me tell you how great God is and the great thing he has done for you through Jesus,’ such sharing is evangelism using worship vocabulary.
The worship—mission continuum came to full bloom at Urbana 2000 when Barney Ford shared: "Urbana 2000 is about worship leading to mission and mission leading to worship--all in response to God's initiative and great love: 'Because He first loved us.” ix
Popular author and pastor John Piper uses different wording but explains similar truths. “Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. "Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy! (Psalm 67:3-4)” x
4. Declare glory as a trans-cultural message that is culturally expressed
Worship that reflects on and celebrates the finished work of Christ will be expressed in different languages, different musical and artistic styles, but the essential truths remain. The gospel is a universal call to respond to the finished work of Jesus. The redemption Christ provided on the cross is a non-negotiable historical truth. But as John Witvliet shared: “The perennial challenge of all Christians is to discern how a transcultural faith can be practiced faithfully in a contextually appropriate way.” xi
Ron Man’s Worship Leader article xiiplowed good ground in this, using the concept of a suspension bridge. The unchanging biblical principles relate to the unmoving foundation pillars of the bridge. These truths, however, could be expressed via the rich diversity of culturally inflected manifestations. The suspension cable or span allows for a great deal of flexibility to expand and contract. This could represent the global worship arena, allowing for the heart language of the people to be considered when making decisions about forms, styles, music and other artistic expressions of faith. For instance, in China Christians sing about God being the rice of life. In tropical islands, “whiter than snow” is stated with different analogies.
5. Declare glory from the nations
From eternity past God has been a wedding planner, preparing for the Son a global wedding feast and grooming a glorious, multi-ethnic Bride. This will be no small event to unveil that moment when the Bride comprising the vast redeemed humanity of every tribe, language and people feasts at the wedding supper of the Lamb. The closing pages of The Revelation identify the atmosphere of the wedding gathering as one of a glory exchange between Bride and Bridegroom. Rev 21:23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp [is] the Lamb 26 they (all peoples) shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. What is the glory and honor of the nations? Their redeemed cultural expressions.
So the call to declare his glory among the nations is a call to a wedding rehearsal, preparing the cultural sounds of the Bride that will be part of the endless dance at the wedding ball of eternity.
Here’s a Mongolian brushstroke from the global canvas. Paul Neeley arrived in the capital, Ulaan Bataar, to facilitate local musicians writing new Scriptural songs. Mongolian believers at the time were not only young in the Lord but young in age. The Soviets were gone. New freedoms arrived. Church planters wisely moved in quickly. They brought with them what they had readily available--western worship songs. More worship songs were needed for the fledgling churches. While the song writing would yield more western oriented songs played with guitar, at least they would not be awkward translations from elsewhere.
On our way to an appointment Paul and I heard our host talk about a pastor/musician (the combo works very well anywhere on the planet) who had mastered Mongolian instruments and traditional Mongolian melodies. With urgency in his voice, Neeley abruptly told us we needed to visit the pastor. I countered that it was a good idea. For tomorrow. We were already late for our appointment. Paul insisted: “We need to get to him, NOW!” So the cab did the detour and we knocked on the door of Pastor Dugermaa. It did not take long for the pastor to get involved in the song writing. Once he grasped where this was heading, he started showing up with a car load of local instruments in his entourage. Neeley asked the musicians present to think about the ways that Mongolians used different melodies on different occasions. He then encouraged investing these song genres with biblical lyrics. The teams went to work. We were stunned to discover they use totally different ways of shaping poetry. Rather than rhyming the ends of phrases, they alliterate the opening sounds of phrases. Throughout the week, new lyrics were honed and grafted into traditional melodic forms adapted to the lyrics.
And then it happened. Something breathtaking. A week later, at a new song concert, Pastor Dugermaa and friends offered to the Lord Mongolian song forms enriched with the words of eternal praise. Like the Nigerians in California hearing their heart music, the audience was ecstatic. It took effort to mine deeply into the rich cultural soil of a nation that experienced 75 years of Soviet domination caking it with foreign elements. It resulted in something new, yet familiar. These were fresh songs, but with a recognizable ring to them. The concert included something rarely used by believers—throat singing. While many of us thought it sounded strange for a voice to produce more than one pitch at the same time, to the locals it was a familiar and sweet sound. Repeated visits to Mongolia yielded more new song concerts. Neeley and I watched a movement of worship emerge. xiii A worship makeover was happening, God raised up one prepared pastor musician to ignite biblically appropriate and culturally relevant heart worship. Encouraging and facilitating song writing events has been happening around the planet. SIL, OM, WEC and other agencies send teams on these global worship safaris.
The crescendo is building, the tempo quickening, moving steadily toward that exhilarating moment when all redeemed humanity join the millions of angels expressing their devotion to the Triune God in His glory. It will involve the vast mosaic of all redeemed peoples using all their
redeemed artistic expressions in an unending symphony declaring glory through eternity.
1. Roberta King, Response to “Inculturation, Worship, and Dispositions for Ministry”: http://www.calvin.edu/worship/global/rking_response.php
2. John Witvliet, Series Preface to Christian Worship Worldwide—Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices, Charles Farhadian, Editor, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 2007), xiv
3. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) vol. II, part 1, chapter VI, section 31.3. quoted in Witvliet, Series Preface to Christian Worship Worldwide—Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices, Charles Farhadian, Editor, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 2007)
4. the Corinthian passage references Ex 34:33-35 where Moses was aglow in the presence of the Lord, and put on a veil when he left the tent and the Lord’s radiant presence. Paul uses the Exodus passage to make the point that in a similar way we can be transformed, unveiled, in the presence of the Lord.
5. On Divine Glory By John D. Witvliet September 2006, http://www.calvin.edu/worship/idis/theology/on_divine_glory.pdf
6. Mark Noll, Praise the Lord--Song, culture, divine bounty, and issues of harmonization.
7. The ICE website, www.worldofworship.org has one of the world’s largest archives of ethnic and global resources. See also www.gia.com for global song resources.
8. Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Il, 2003), p 137
9. Steve Hoke, A Glorious Pursuit--Reflections on God's passion for worshipers from all peoples, Mission Frontiers, March, 2001, http://www.missionfrontiers.com/pdf/2001/01/uhoke.htm
10. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.
11. John Witvliet, Series Preface to Christian Worship Worldwide—Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices, Charles Farhadian, Editor, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 2007), p. 275
12. “Worship Bridges”, Worship Leader, September, 2005, 19-20. The article is useful in providing a side bar on biblical principles of worship as well as excellent resources.
13, See excerpts of these new sounds of Mongolian worship at www.heart-sounds.org. A documentary featuring pastor Dugermaa is available at the website.
Frank Fortunato serves as the International Music Director for Operation Mobilization, coordinating OM’s Heart Sounds International, a ministry promoting indigenous worship through seminars, songwriting events, and recording of non-western worship mostly in the restricted parts of the world.